When he takes the field this fall, Tigers coach Terry Bowden
will look much as he did five years ago during his first season
at Auburn. Last February, Bowden began following a high-protein
diet in which he ate only meat, eggs and cheese, and by July he
had lost 46 pounds to reach his Auburn inaugural weight of 160.
Bowden's team will also look much as it did in 1993, when the
Tigers held opponents to 17.5 points per game and finished 11-0.
Though no one is guaranteeing a perfect record this season, the
defense should be the equal of that '93 unit. "We have our best
defense in five years," Bowden says, "and defense wins
Though Auburn lost linebackers Takeo Spikes and Ricky Neal and
occasional starting safety Martavius Houston from last season,
the defense remains loaded with experience. Nine starters are
back, led by senior linemen Jimmy Brumbaugh and Charles Dorsey,
who combined for eight sacks last year.
The D's load will be heavy, at least early in the season, as
redshirt sophomore quarterback Ben Leard grows into the
starter's role. Playing behind now departed Dameyune Craig, the
6'3" Leard threw just two passes in '97. That's not to say he
hasn't been tested, having battled the Tigers defense in
practice for two years.
If Leard excels, some of the credit will go to Craig, who took
his designated successor under his wing in the summer of '97.
The two often got together to watch extra film or just grab
dinner and talk. "He was preparing me," Leard says. "He dropped
in little bits of information that will help me so I won't have
to go through some of the hard times he went through." Craig has
moved on to the Carolina Panthers, with whom he signed as an
undrafted free agent in the spring, but the two still speak to
each other frequently.
Bowden, too, will help ease Leard into the job by shifting the
focus of the attack. "We ran an offense last year that put
incredible pressure on one player: Dameyune," Bowden says.
"We'll go back to running some things that will spread the
Auburn averaged just 73.8 rushing yards last fall, a figure
Bowden wants to see increase considerably this year. The player
he'll be counting on is sophomore Demontray Carter, who emerged
from spring practice as the starting tailback. After plans to
redshirt Carter in '97 were scrapped because of Auburn's
struggling running attack, he played in the final seven games
and finished third among Tigers backs, with 233 yards rushing.
He was fumble prone and lacked upper-body strength, but since
the end of last season he has put on 15 pounds.
The return of receiver Robert Baker, who was academically
ineligible in '97, was the team's best news at the outset of the
spring, but the joy was short-lived. A week into drills, Baker
was arrested for cocaine trafficking; he was sentenced in May to
15 years in prison. That leaves little depth in the wideout
corps other than senior Karsten Bailey, who led the team in
receptions last season, with 53, and sophomore Clifton Robinson,
who had 15 catches.
Luckily, no one expects the Tigers to win games by running up
the score. "As long as they give us something, that's good by
me," Brumbaugh says. "If our team wants to have a great season,
it lies on the defense. I'd rather the game be on my shoulders
than on someone else's." --D.G.
COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE L. SCHWARTZMAN RUSH JOB With Craig gone, Carter will be carrying a heavy load in a more diverse attack. [Demontray Carter in game]
1997 record: 10-3
(6-2, tied for 1st in SEC West)
Final ranking: No. 11 AP, No. 11 coaches' poll
1997 Averages OFFENSE DEFENSE
Scoring 26.6 19.4
Rushing Yards 73.8 114.2
Passing Yards 273.5 229.6
Total Yards 347.3 343.8
Ben Leard will be the first quarterback other than Dameyune
Craig to start for the Tigers since Patrick Nix in 1995.... Free
safety Brad Ware, a junior, led the team in interceptions last
season with four.... Rob Pate earned freshman All-SEC honors at
strong safety and will take over the spot full time following
Martavius Houston's dismissal from the team for an unspecified
Schedule strength: 1st of 112
Sept. 19 vs. LSU Tigers battle Tigers for a jump on the SEC
West. Auburn won 31-28 in Baton Rouge in '97 and took the
Oct. 3 vs. Tennessee Auburn looks to avenge its 30-29 loss in
the '97 SEC title game. This time there's no Peyton Manning to
The Bottom Line
Leard and Demontray Carter must play big and the D must overcome
the loss of Takeo Spikes for the Tigers to contend for the SEC